Monday March 7 2005 8:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"Nothing but the sacking of Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone could just be a small start to compensate for the fact that it has been revealed that her Department, DIMIA, is well aware of the fact that holding detainees in the "Management Unit" in solitary confinement is illegal, as admitted by her former Chief of Staff Mr Andrew Kirk, and that DIMIA will keep doing that until stopped by a Court," WA Refugee lobby group's spokesman Jack H Smit said today.
Former Vanstone Chief of Staff Andew Kirk last week admitted that the holding of detainees in the "Management Unit" in solitary confinement is illegal and amounts to breaking the law, on-line magazine and media monitor Crikey reported this weekend.
Australian resident Cornelia Rau was one of the people locked up in solitary confinement cell of the "Management Unit" in the Redgum One - or Red One - compound, maybe as long as four months.
In a conversation with human rights barrister Mr Julian Burnside QC, Mr Kirk has admitted that the Department of Immigration is fully aware of the illegality of taking this action with detainees in the Baxter detention centre, but also stated that DIMIA will keep carrying out this illegal practice until stopped by a Court.
"The Immigration Department exemplifies an entrenched attitude within the Howard administration of deep contempt for the Australian Court system when it inconveniences DIMIA's way of working and the demands placed by the Migration Act. It's time that also the damning isolation cells get destroyed and that all aspects of the Migration Act will come under the jurisdictional authority of international law, the International Declaration of Human Rights, and the spirit of the UN Refugee Convention," Mr Smit said, "but we probably only will get this change through an Australian Bill of Rights."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Crikey: Vanstone former Chief of Staff admits illegality
From a Crikey subscriber notice
6 March 2005
3. Vanstone's former COS confirms illegal solitary confinement
On Friday night the NSW Council for Civil Liberties awarded Sydney solicitor John Marsden honorary life membership. Julian Burnside was invited to make the speech in Marsden's honour. In the course of his speech, Burnside referred to the unregulated use of solitary confinement in Australia's immigration detention centres, criticising it as inhumane and also as unlawful.
The speech went down well, but one person took him on afterwards, while guests got on with their dinner. Andrew Kirk, currently senior advisor to Joe Hockey, but until recently chief of staff in Amanda Vanstone's Immigration Department, told Burnside that he was wrong.
A fairly lively debate between the two followed, in which Kirk conceded that solitary confinement is used as punishment in detention centres, that punishment without the order of a court breaches the constitutional separation of powers; that use of solitary confinement as punishment is unlawful, but that they would keep on doing it until a court told them to stop.
Later in the evening, Burnside had to get up and present the award to Marsden. He took the opportunity to tell the 350 guests, point by point, what Kirk had said. He then invited Kirk to contradict him if Kirk disagreed with the summary of their conversation. Kirk said nothing.
We have known for years that solitary confinement is used in detention centres. The government has always been cagey about it, preferring to call it 'separation detention'. Now we have a clear, public admission of systematic conduct by the department which not only breaches international conventions, but which the department knows is illegal.